Viggo Mortensen

Viggo Mortensen
A History of Violence 2005

The situation here is very intriguing, if not new. Tom Stall is a typical small town man. He runs a diner, he has a loving wife and a typically Hollywood-style troubled teen. All seems well, until a pair of psychos roll into town. The psychos try to make trouble at the diner, and Tom easily takes them down. He's an instant hero, which draws in the mob, who believes he's in witness protection. Normally I am very careful to hide details of the "ending" of a movie in a review, but in this case it's revealed about halfway through and I need to discuss the situation in the review. So if you haven't seen this movie yet and want to watch it completely "blind", please stop reading here.

Tom is, indeed, an assassin who is in fact the brother of the current crime boss. Repeated trips by mobsters to his quiet rural home make it clear that he can't just stay in hiding. He decides the only solution is to head home to "talk" to his brother - which ends up meaning he slays everyone in sight. Then he returns home, sits down with his wife and kid, and the movie ends.

I really appreciate what was attempted here. Viggo is a great actor, and there are many interesting aspects of the transformation. For example, let's take his marriage. They start with the wife, to be "racy", dressing up as a sweet cheerleader from high school. Only a short while later, when she realizes he's an assassin, they have a brutally passionate sex scene on the stairs. Tom in fact tries to pull back, and she pulls him down to her again. She's discovering her own darker side.

Tom tried to "reform" from his previous life. He says that he spent a few years in the desert, changing. His new name, "Tom Stall", was "available". Did he know someone who died? Was it someone he killed? I love the ambiguity. He even tries to tell his son to be peaceful with the school bullies. He's not grumpy with his small diner restaurant. He's honestly proud of it. He's happy with his life. He isn't "making do" - he is content. There are many small touches shown throughout the movie that reflects this.

So now, the issues that I have. First, David Cronenberg is a horror movie director and it really shows. It turns the movie from a dark, psychological thriller to something that is more over-the-top. Some of the deleted things border on silly. I am all for violence in context. The violence was heavy handed here, so that it crossed from being realistic and into the realm of fantastic. It meant the movie became less "real". That's fine in a movie that is meant to be violent for violence sake, like say Predator. I love movies like that. However, this movie had amazing potential for being a *psychological* gripper. That means you really have to believe 100% in the characters and their personalities and motives, to be caught up in that. The movie was missing in that. There were also several plot holes which were too big for suspension of disbelief, which also made the connection to the characters falter.

Here's one situation. Tom grew up with the mob. He was in fact an assassin for them. Yet when some mob guys show up, he thinks somehow they'll "go away". It's not like Tom is without people who can easily identify him. Surely his brother saw the news footage! Yet he leaves his entire family at risk by hanging around, waiting. The bad guys show up. He could go with them, to save his family. Nope, he doesn't do that either. Eventually he decides to go talk with his brother, and shoots up the entire place, leaving fingerprints all over. Then he walks out and tosses the gun in the pond. Nope, I bet the police will never spot it there. And then ... he drives home again?

There was so much depth that could have been developed here. The relationship between Tom and his son, how both reacted to situations, how Tom dealt with the situations he faced. Besides the aforementioned sex duality, however, most of the rest was whitewashed. I would have loved to see more meaningful time between Tom and his son. I'd have loved to see Tom in more "grey" situations. Instead, it was all black and white.

The "meaning" that did survive was pretty light. Sure, everyone can change. We see that every day, with people who are corrupted by wealth, and other people who turn their back on a life of crime to be peaceful. It's normal, it's not "strange". The mob wasn't "evil" any more than Tom was "good". They were all just men who had their personal drives. Many mobsters will tell you they were born into a family and raised to be loyal to that family. They don't kill innocent civilians, they kill "soldiers" who actively threaten them. That was Tom's life. Life is about shades of grey, about people sliding along the scale, making decisions, interacting with others. The movie went right past all of that into the blood and gore.

As a final note, I pegged the landscape as Canadian as soon as it opened - that fall foliage was a pretty clear giveaway. While it was pretty, it also took away from the realism. Surely Canadian film costs can't be *so* low that they are incapable of filming a film about the midwest IN the midwest? It seemed like a shallow cheat to me. The midwest has such a rich history, a gorgeous landscape, and that "safe quiet" was such a critical component of the storyline that it was disappointing to me to be reminded constantly that they were lying about it.

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